Religion As A Crutch

A criticism that is sometimes levelled against religious faith is that it is ‘a crutch’ for those who want comfort and who are unable to deal with death and other hardships in life. It argues that belief in God is simply a coping mechanism and that if people were able to deal with life without God they would not believe in him. This criticism and others like it are particularly ineffective because they make a very basic logical fallacy. I will explore this criticism and will show that it should not be used in an intellectual discussion about the existence of God.  

When confronted with this kind of criticism people often respond by highlighting that it can be turned around and aimed at the atheist. Perhaps the atheist is the one hiding from the reality of God’s existence because they cannot stand to change their lifestyles etc. This may or may not be true, but I do not think that this resolves anything and it risks becoming a shouting match with each person insisting that it is the other who cannot face reality. Another way that people often respond is to highlight that if religion is a crutch then it is often a poor one. Religious faith can be demanding and tough to live out. This is particularly clear in countries where religious minorities face persecution and dangers. This response seems a bit better, but again it will not convince everybody and some people undoubtedly do turn to religion in search of comfort during times of hardship. As such, I think that we should analyse the criticism logically, and I believe that it fails as a criticism because it makes the genetic fallacy.

The genetic fallacy occurs when somebody attempts to refute an idea by criticising where it comes from as opposed to analysing the idea itself. Imagine that somebody loses their watch. That night, they dream that it has fallen under the bed. Normally dreams are unreliable sources of information, but does this mean that the watch is definitely not under the bed? No! If we wanted to find out whether the watch was under the bed we would have to look. This is how we must treat ideas. We must analyse them and explore them regardless of where they came from.

Some people with training in history might interject here. In history the reliability of sources is an important factor, and the amount of trust that people will have in an account will vary depending upon how reliable the source is. A contemporary of an event, for example, is considered more reliable than a source written hundreds of years later. This is entirely reasonable. It would, however, be a fallacy to disregard some evidence JUST because it was written a long time after an event, particularly if there were other sources, archaeological evidence and other forms of evidence that supported it. Further, in philosophy where it is concepts and arguments that are being explored, rather than events, the reliability of the source is even less important. This is because each argument can be analysed at any time and by any person just by using logic and reason. As such, in philosophy each argument and concept must be analysed entirely on its own merit and strength regardless of where it came from.

To illustrate why ‘the crutch fallacy’ fails I will give an analogy. Imagine that a man, call him Andy, believes that his wife loves him. Now imagine that Andy has a job that he hates and the only thing that gets him through the day is his belief that his wife loves him. Undoubtedly his belief that his wife loves him is a great comfort to him and it allows him to cope with life. Does this mean that his wife does not love him? Of course not! Now imagine that Andy also has good reasons to believe that his wife loved him.  Let’s suppose that his wife tells him that she loves him every day and that they have been married for a long time. Perhaps she gave him a fantastic present and home cooked meal on his last birthday and other things like this. Now it seems reasonable to conclude that Andy’s wife does love him. Further, it also seems entirely reasonable that it should be a comfort to him when life is tough.

This is the situation that the theist is in. The fact that their faith may be a comfort has no effect upon the truth of their faith. As such, if we are going to explore whether God exists and whether Christianity is true we must analyse it based upon evidence and argument and that is exactly what this website aims to do! In conclusion, ‘the crutch fallacy’ fails because it makes the genetic fallacy and thus has no relevance for the truth of the Christian Message.

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DISCLAIMER: Blog entries made by individual authors reflect the views of the author and not necessarily the view of other CAA authors, or the official position of the group at large.
About Richard Playford

Richard has a BA (hons) from the University of Exeter in philosophy with ancient history and is current studying for an MA at the University of Birmingham in philosophy. He is particularly interested in the philosophical aspects of Christian apologetics.